Mumbai-based photographer Riddhi Parekh recently released something visceral. She calls it the Train Series—7 pictures that seamlessly fuses the subtle sensibilities of fashion with the untamed atmosphere of a mode of transport that runs India—the train. The end result is something you have to see to believe.
Parekh spearheaded this project “cause when you get a crazy idea you run with it because they don’t come often,” she illustrates. She did it because it seemed challenging and painful to execute. She did it because she thought if nothing else she will learn something out of it.
The series was shot in the Rohtak JN. They started getting ready around 11-12 pm and shot all the way till sundown around 6.30 pm. This body of work was shot in 2014.
The series was a byproduct of Parekh’s original idea of doing a fashion series during Holi in Mathura. She had shot the festival in 2011 and she was absolutely fascinated by it. Even though the experience wasn’t the best— “she had to camouflage herself as a guy to shoot the event,” she tells us. Further, she was almost 99 per cent sure she wouldn’t be able to shoot the fashion series knowing that crowd was a bad one. She took a chance anyway because she had a brave and equally crazy team willing to help her pull off this crazy idea too. Viji Sharma, her makeup, and hairstylist (she was a big part of this project). “We had no money as it was self-funded and no designers were willing to lend clothes for a series on Holi so we bought all the clothes required with the help of stylist friend Sayali Angachekar,” she recalls.
Since the original idea was so doubtful she wanted to have few plan Bs. While booking the train tickets the team saw how it was almost a 24-hour long journey, and knowing how bored and uncomfortable they would get, to kill time Parekh suggested of shooting another story in the train. “We were anyway short on budget so we booked a non-AC compartment as I knew the real charm would be in shooting there.”
Planning makes perfect
“Honestly the only planning needed was a willing team. Something like this just needs conviction and willingness. I had no fancy clothes, no stylist, no fancy lights, nothing. The budget to buy more clothes had run out so I pulled some stuff from my wardrobe and bought few affordable things from linking Road and Fashion Street. Rebekah (Watkins), my model needed no convincing. We had shot a lot before and I was comfortable with her and she had trust in me. Same goes with Viji who financed this project partly, this series is as much theirs as it is mine,” she adds.
A tough nut
The biggest challenge was for Sharma and Watkins. “To put in all the effort as a makeup artist was commendable,” Parekh fondly recalls. Adding, “Any makeup artist would want an extensive team, fancy equipment and an AC room where they can sit and do elaborate makeup to show off their skills. She had none. She did amazing with what little she had and in the conditions, she had to do it in. She and Rebekah had to stand outside the stinky loo with a low-end curler to get the hair done, wait for the train to stop so she can do her eye make up properly. It was a challenge for Rebekah to change and get ready for such stuffy situations and then pose so fiercely. I had the easiest job, to hide behind my camera and do my best to capture what was already epic.”
Keeping to your guns
The original Holi series she had planned for didn’t happen. “We got all ready for the shoot on the day of Holi and I decided to take a stroll with my light guy to check how crazy it was outside. As predicted I started getting manhandled and rushed back to the ashram. There was no way I was letting Rebekah out in that condition. But we were all mentally prepared for it to go down south anyway. Since Rebekah was all dressed up we shot inside the Ashram, one of the shots from that went on a cover of Beauty and Hair magazine. We used the rest of the clothes to shoot another street fashion series in the next day when things had calmed down. Point is, ‘where there is a will, there is a way.’ Never give up.’ Think crazy. Think big. If you get crazy ideas make them happen. Plan B can be better than plan A. Keep shooting no matter what,” ends Parekh.
We were pleasantly surprised to see everyone in the train not only being supportive but also helpful to execute the shoot. They were fascinated and at the same time super respectful. This was my third shot in the series and by then I was comfortable enough to put Rebekah between all these men knowing she won’t be harmed in any way. All the men in the frame were asked to be as still as possible as the train was moving, the light was low and I didn’t have my trusty 1.4 lenses; the shutter was slow and ISO was pumped up.Trust me when I say this never found better subjects to shoot, they didn’t move for 15 minutes except giving me unbelievable expressions to add to the frame.
About this image, big kudos to Rebekah for managing to pose so fiercely, it must not have been easy to position herself in such a stuffy condition and crowd. I still don’t know what she is sitting on and managing to do so with those big heels and still look so incredible. I have huge respect for models, their job by no means is simple and easy money.
Also for me, light and composition are of utmost importance. They play a big part in telling the story. Using the door as a big cut light to draw attention to her and further using the crowd to close the frame was the idea. Also, the best part about non-models is how incredibly raw they are and how unaffected they are by the lens. After the first few shots, the crowd kind of just got busy with their own thing except of course the curious kid peeping into my frame.
What better than a nice train window shot. This one just had to happen. Just a bit of drama with the light and the stunning Rebekah doing her thing.
The challenge was to find various angles and idea to shoot int the same compartment with limited room to move around. I saw a bit of room between all the men sitting and positioned her right in the centre to bring in some grace to otherwise a raw shot. The backlight of course does the trick.
It’s a variation of shot 3. I wanted something extremely tight to balance out all the wide frames. You need such filler frames sometimes to bring some relativity and variety to the series.The light was too harsh for this shot so we used newspaper to diffuse the light coming off the window. You can actually see it in the background.
By now, the light was falling drastically and I was running out of ideas. But I knew we needed more variations to finish the series. I realized we had not yet put her on the top bunk. So I did just that. Used one flash and bounced it off to get the light. I realised how important the job of a model becomes to pull focus to you in wide frames and Rebekah did that beautifully in all the images.
After all the morning madness calms down in the train it finally settles into a much more quieter space. I love train journeys and I have such fond memories of it. And one of my most favourite things to do is to find a window seat and salivate at the ever-changing scenery. There was always something meditative about it.
This is one of the last shots I took, the light had dropped so I had to bounce a flash, and the passengers on these seats graciously emptied them for us. By now people were almost used to our little setup. Viji studied the mood and let Rebekah’s hair lose; Rebekah too let the wind do all the talking in the photo. One of the best parts about having a great team who are in sync with you is that they understand your vision and add to it.
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